“ A lot of prejudices are misunderstandings ”
Heather Herbert once believed that being trans meant exclusion from elected politics, fearing alienation and ridicule from others.
It was street activism, such as attending anti-war protests and campaigning against hospital closures, that first enabled the Scottish Labor candidate to become actively involved in politics.
However, it was only after attending an event in Manchester hosted by the LGBT + Labor Party around four years ago that she began to see a future for herself in elected politics, after s’ to be worried first that she would “alienate people”.
There has never been an openly trans PSM in Holyrood, nor among MPs in Westminster, and Ms Herbert, who is running for office in Aberdeen Donside, would like that to change.
“A lot of the fear around gender identity and trans people is that people don’t know what it is,” she tells me.
“We are 1% of the population, more or less, so a lot of people will never run into a trans person, so it’s easy to demonize us and think of us as ‘others.’
“A trans person being at Holyrood, you become another colleague, you become another MSP, a person that people interact with and they don’t see you as ‘another’ evil person but as a human being.
Debate on trans rights
It has been “at times demoralizing” and “frustrating” to witness the fierce debate around gender identity that has come to a head in recent years, she says.
The 45-year-old would like to see the gender recognition law reformed, but believes what trans people want more is for wait times for treatment to be reduced.
She had to wait around 18 months for treatment – a period she describes as the ‘worst’ – of her life, but the parliamentary candidate says she has friends in Glasgow who have had to wait up to three years. .
She says: “Wait times, even before Covid-19, people could spend three years on a waiting list, if only to have an assessment before receiving treatment.
“I remember back then they were probably the two worst years of my life getting things done for myself but being blocked by the NHS because of funding.”
In terms of online abuse, Ms Herbert says she is filtering calls and has set up Twitter so that she only sees responses from people she is following so that she doesn’t have to ‘see it. ‘abuse if occasionally thrown in my way’.
However, she has not yet had a negative interaction with a voter on the grounds that she is trans and believes that the stigma often stems from a “misunderstanding”.
She adds, “When you think of prejudice, you assume it’s all based on meanness and I don’t think that’s the case.
“A lot of the prejudices that occur are unwarranted concerns. When I applied for a position on the board, there was a lot of discussion with some of the members.
It boils down to a lack of understanding and familiarity with trans people and a lack of positive role models.
“People were worried about how others would treat me, so they decided not to vote for me to be the candidate because of concerns for my safety.
“It’s a form of prejudice because it’s the assumption that other people will have prejudices when they don’t, but it held me back a bit again.
“On the other side, there are people who are deliberately hurtful or hateful, but the majority of people are not.
“A lot of the prejudices are misunderstandings and what you might consider to be an unwarranted concern.
“It boils down to a lack of understanding and familiarity with trans people and a lack of positive role models.”
The future of oil and gas jobs
Regarding her main priorities for Aberdeen Donside and the North East more broadly, Ms Herbert says employment is “the number one issue”.
The shift from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy production has been an issue that has flared up during this election campaign in Holyrood, with parties disagreeing on how quickly it should happen.
Ms. Herbert says, “Oil and gas jobs are essential jobs here. These are changing and these are disappearing to some extent, even before Covid-19 there was more and more unemployment.
“These are not huge amounts, but increasing levels of unemployment. These jobs can be replaced by green jobs, we are heading towards a green industrial revolution.
“Most of this wind turbines and green energy infrastructure are outsourced to places like China and overseas, rather than jobs being kept in the North East and Scotland more generally.”
On the constitution, she unsurprisingly agrees with her party leader Anas Sarwar that the next parliament should focus on resuming Covid-19.
She adds: ‘We have seen with Brexit how divisive these kinds of constitutional issues can be and how they can pit people against each other.
“We have to pull ourselves together, we’ve been through a huge shock over the past year, both in terms of jobs but also in people’s mental and physical health, everything has been affected.
“We really have to work together to help people.”
‘Wheesht for Indy’: the internal SNP line that led to Nicola Sturgeon’s transphobia video